a conversation between nicola van straaten and kopano maroga about ‘closet’: an ongoing performance project 


nicola: kopano, towards the end of 2015 we swapped wardrobes for about two weeks. it was starting to get really summery and i was digging your shirts and comfy jeans, but missing my dresses and the variety that a wardrobe of lady-clothes offer. perhaps i looked a bit more androgynous than usual, but no one around seemed to notice the change too much. it felt as though i almost disappeared. the exchange became slightly superficial and amusing, but somehow quite deep and eery, to be in someone else’s clothes completely. (here enters the idea of material objects, placed in a certain way on a body making specific impressions upon the subject wearing those objects). how did you feel in my clothing? 

kopano: yoh! it was super empowering the first few days to feel this heightened femininity being projected out of me! i had so much fun taking selfies and celebrating that side of myself. it’s so interesting that you mention the feeling of disappearing; my experience was exactly the opposite. obviously the sight of a male presenting body in hyper feminine-coded clothing is going to garner some attention (because patriarchy, queerphobia etc). it was super interesting that after a while people who knew about the project would expect that I present in hyper feminine ways (dresses and skirts) while some days i just wanted to put on your dungarees and a warm jacket. after a while i missed being able to disappear without this constant, undercurrent of pressure to somehow “prove” and “perform” my femininity for the pleasure of those viewing me…

nicola: when we worked on transitioning this idea from a life-experiment to some sort of choreographic performance, how did the original idea of clothing and performance manifest again for you? for me, the mundane act of dressing / undressing became a concentrated concoction of hyper-performativity. it’s weird and interesting to watch our normal clothes become costumes, don’t you think? kind of like looking at our closets (and our bodies) at a different angle?

kopano: yeah totally! there’s something inherently presentational about clothing… it’s this layer that in a very physical way separates us from the world but, potentially, offers an “in” into our more internal landscapes and the ideas we hold about ourselves… in some ways clothing can act as a way for us to ask people/the world to come closer, you know? like, “look here, there is something i am trying to convey to both you and myself. do you understand?” yeah, the hyper-kinda meta- performativity of performing what is inherently a performance was super interesting. it’s also interesting to see these personal representational/symbolic pieces of fabric performing a heightened function of their original purpose…

nicola: one of my favourite things about creating closet with you, was discovering the various stories behind each garment. a collection of clothing is like an archive of oral history – there lies a narrative behind each item. clothing stories are some of my favourites, sometimes i wonder if it’s because there is a strong culture of talking about clothes with women. growing up with two sisters and surround by many girls, it’s always been natural and intuitive for me to talk about clothing. when did you start to really engage with or feel the impact of dress in your life? 

kopano: it’s interesting, i’ve always been conscious of dress ever since i started wearing my mother’s heels with my brother when we were kids. i’ve always felt super feminine in the way i perceive dress since i always seemed to be aware of it in a way that a lot of other male-presenting bodies growing up around me weren’t. creating closet was an opportunity to almost vindicate  myself and this small daily ritual (dressing) that had for a long time been subtly imbued with shame because of it’s social codification as a feminine behaviour. patriarchy and internalized misogyny are no joke. i’m just glad that i’m in a position where i can celebrate my femme-ness. closet was super healing in that way…

check out some extracts from their most recent performance at Gallery MoMo: 

video editing: nicola van straaten 

photography: alessandra griffin